Category Archives: ‘BACK-THEN’ Articles

A look back. . .‘Dad was test-driver for Hudson Hornet’

The 1951 Hudson Hornet was fast, handled very well

It all transpired from a mention in August (2022) that Dodge expects to resurrect the Hornet model name for its first plug-in hybrid, having acquired rights to the name from the Chrysler Corp. purchase of American Motors Corp. in 1987.

I wrote that I well-remember the original Hornet as a Hudson. An e-mail from a reader offered to share with me an even closer look back to the days of the Hudson Hornet in the early 1950s.

Caroline and Ted Seith during discussion of Hudson Hornet. (Jan Wells photo)

So on a September afternoon, the newest of the new all-electric autos, the 2023 Genesis GV60 Performance luxury compact crossover, carried Jan and me 50 miles south from our home to that of Ted and Carolyn Seith.

There the four of us, over tea and cakes, shared recollections of what some might say is an almost-forgotten part of U.S. automotive history – the Hudson Motor Car Co. of Detroit.

There’s no forgetting for Seith, whose father, Richard Seith, was a test-car driver for Hudson in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He often rode along with his dad in drives of the new models. In testing all sorts of quality/performance/durability for new Hudsons, Richard Seith worked alongside another test veteran, Marshall Teague, who became an outstanding NASCAR racer and died in a crash in 1959.

The Hudson company built cars in Detroit from 1909 to 1954, when it merged with Nash-Kelvinator to form American Motors. “Rather than a merger, it was a takeover by Nash,” said Seith. His point is well-taken, considering that, though the Hornet name was continued through 1957 after the formation of American Motors Corp., it was as a restyled Nash.

Hudson introduced its “step-down-into” structure in 1948; the low center of gravity improved its handling, an advantage in racing, and its lightweight unibody construction and very fast flathead inline-6-cylinder turned the Hornet into a stock-car champion.

Seith said his dad told him drivers from other manufacturers often tested their new products near the same roads as did he. “The Hornet in the early ‘50s was faster than the Chrysler V-8 and also beat an Oldsmobile 88 V-8,” the elder Seith told his son.

Hudson, until the AMC merger, was a strong sales competitor against Chrysler, DeSoto, Lincoln, Mercury and Oldsmobile, and was well-represented with local dealerships.

When automobile assembly lines began rolling again in 1946, following the end of World War II, there were 28 Hudson dealerships in operation in Colorado. Seven in Denver were Fred A. Ward Inc., Frank E. Brenner, Jack Brown Motors, Chambers Motor Co., Elwood Edwards Auto Sales, Harrison Motors and Vic Hebert; Owen Motors was in Englewood and Lookout Mountain Service in Golden.

Others around the state were Lesher Motor Co. in Akron, Holly Hudson Motors in Boulder, DeFries and McCaun in Colorado Springs, Ray’s Garage in Craig, Rice Service Station in Eagle, Allison Motors in Estes Park, Mountain Motor Co. in Fort Collins, Yates Motors in Fort Morgan, Fedderson Motors in Greeley, Petre Motor Co. in Haxtun, Fiedler Motor Co. in Holyoke, Davis Motor Co. in Idaho Springs, Huston Motor Co. in Julesburg, Bert Maich Garage in Leadville, Harris Motor Co. in Limon, Longmont Motor Co., Grace Motors in Sterling, Starr Motor Co. in Wray and Hansen Garage in Yuma.

Back then . . . . . 1997 Chevy Camaro

A week of weather is washed from the ’97 Camaro at Fire House Car Wash. (Bud Wells photo/1997)

(Twenty-five years ago, in February 1997, I drove and reviewed the 30th anniversary Chevy Corvette. Excerpts follow:)

The 30th anniversary Camaro Z28, a car that befits my youthful image, shows just as it snows, and snows. Four snowfalls in six days. Nothing heavy, just enough to slick down the streets and dirty up the car.

What a fun car to drive. With V-8 power, it’s best on dry roads, though.

Chevrolet has done a nice job with the anniversary appearance package. The arctic white exterior is enhanced with center stripes over the trunk, top and hood in “hugger’ orange, reminiscent of the classic ’69 Z28.

Inside, the seats are of black-and-white houndstooth inserts, with 30th anniversary embroidery on the floormats and headrests.

Wheels are white five-spoke aluminum.

Originally, some Chevrolet insiders say, the plan was for the anniversary car to be orange with white stripes. What a sight that would have been.

Few cars run as strong as does the Camaro with the 5.7-liter V-8 engine. The LT1 powerplant, introduced in the ’92 Corvette, produces 285 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a throwback to the muscle car days, and is exhilarating to drive.

Coupled with a 6-speed manual transmission, the Camaro has tremendously quick initial acceleration. But the tranny has that unconventional (silly) “skip shift” (Computer-Aided Gear Selection) system. Under certain acceleration situations, the system locks out 2nd and 3rd gears and directs the gearshift from 1st to 4th. Such a fall-off in power from 1st to 4th is very unlike-Camaro.

To avoid this, a driver must kick out very hard, or shift almost immediately from 1st to 2nd, or delay the shift until the “skip shift” light no longer shines (about 2500 rpm).

The first-ever Chevy Camaro, produced in 1967. (Chevrolet)

Camaro’s been a popular muscle car since its debut in 1967, when a white SS Camaro convertible drew attention as the Indy 500 pace car. Sales have slowed in recent years. It competes with the Ford Mustang, Toyota Supra and Celica, Honda Prelude and Mitsubishi Eclipse.

The colorful review model carried a sticker price of $23,926, including a Z28 equipment group of speed control, remote hatch release, fog lamps, power windows and locks, electric remote mirrors, leather steering wheel, keyless entry and theft-deterrent alarm.

Other options, in addition to the equipment and appearance packages, were power seat, rear-window defogger, traction control and CD player. The stereo had the speed-compensated volume control, quieting a bit at idle, then increasing volume at highway speeds.

Rigid body structure adds to Camaro’s handling capabilities. Suspension is short/long arm in front, with dampers and springs of coil-over-shock design. At rear is a Salisbury axle design with trailing arms, track bar and torque arm.

The Camaro is equipped with driver and front-passenger airbags and an antilock brake system.

The EPA rating is 16 in town and 27 on highway. I averaged 15.3 in mostly in-town driving.

All Camaros are manufactured at the General Motors assembly plant in Ste. Therese, Quebec, Canada.

Back then. . .’81 Maserati Merak

The 1981 Maserati Merak SS was mid-engined sport speedster. (Bud Wells photos)

(Forty years ago, in 1981, I enjoyed testing the Maserati Merak SS, an Italian dream machine which I reviewed in The Denver Post.)

The ’81 Maserati at $42,637 was the highest-priced auto I drove and reviewed until July of 1993, when I tested the quickness of the ’93 Toyota Supra Turbo, with a sticker price of $43,607.

Price tag on 1980 Porsche 928 was $39,024.

The Maserati was built for the Alps, from speeding over the mountain passes to tight cornering in the hairpin turns. It was loaned to me for a few days in the summer of 1981 by Bill Stewart of the Royal Carriage Works at My Garage, 455 Broadway, Denver.

Following are excerpts from the review in The Post:

The driver sits very low in the reclining red leather seat, with black leather on the console, a red instrument panel and dark suede on the dashtop. Pleasant-sounding AM-FM cassette stereo is by Blaupunkt.

The car’s turning circle is a narrow 34.4 feet. It stands only 44.6 inches high and weighs 2,905 pounds on a wheelbase of 102 inches. It is 180 inches long and 69.6 inches wide. Front tread is 58 inches, with 56.9 inches at the rear. Brakes are disc, impressively large in swept area. Steering is rack-and-pinion, with adjustable tilt and height of the wheel.

The 181-cubic-inch V-6 engine has 8.5-to-1 compression ratio and 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Fuel delivery in the mid-engined Maserati comes from three twin-throated Weber carburetors.

I’ve driven a couple of cars which were quicker off the line than the Merak, but they were V-8 powered. This one really moves after the initial moment. Second gear performs especially strong in the 3,000 to 5,000 RPM range. It will power up a hill in any of the five gears. It cruises 55 miles an hour at 2,600 rpm and runs the same speed in 4th and at 3,350 rpm. Balance is excellent at high speeds. Top speed is somewhere above 140 mph, Maserati officials say.

Though the Merak’s EPA rating is only 10 miles per gallon, the test model averaged 17.1 over highways in the Denver area.

Added to the $40,225 base price of the Merak SS is $550 for gas-guzzler tax, $600 for special two-tone paint and $1,262 for transportation, bringing total to $42,637.

The light stalk is situated so close to the signal stalk that a driver unfamiliar with the controls might mistake one for the other a time or two after dark.

Under the hood is a small luggage compartment, including an impressive leather-bagged set of tools.

The rear deck provides access to the engine, battery, spare tire and fuel system. Air conditioning and alternator are at extreme rear of engine.

Maserati also in 1981 builds a 4,600-pound four-door Quattroporte, which sells for about $56,000. It is powered by a 5-liter V-8 engine. The big luxury model has in the trunk a complete set of leather luggage to match the car’s interior.

1981 reviews, $5,000 Civic to $35,000 Benz

1981 Reviews – Mercedes 300SD on top, Honda Civic on Bottom

(Forty years ago this winter, in February 1981, I reviewed back-to-back for The Denver Post two contrasting imports – the unusually pricey ’81 Mercedes 300SD and the bargain-tier ’81 Honda Civic 1500 DX hatchback. Only twice had I driven anything more luxurious than the $35,345 Mercedes – the ’81 Maserati Merak SS at $42,637 and the ’80 Porsche 928 at $39,024. And compared to the $5,348 Honda Civic, the Toyota Starlet at $5,110 was the only less-expensive little car I tested in 1981. The cars were provided for testing by two dealer friends, Mark Murray of Murray Imports and Ralph Schomp of Schomp Oldsmobile Honda. Excerpts of both reviews follow:

A 5-cylinder turbodiesel powered the ’81 Mercedes 300SD. (Bud Wells/1981)


There is no downsizing of Mercedes-Benz’ big sedan, the turbocharged, diesel-powered 300SD. A more aerodynamic body of lighter-weight materials was shaped in Mercedes’ wind tunnels and a new 4-speed automatic transmission complements the turboed 5-cylinder diesel engine.

The rear-drive Benz’s wheelbase has been lengthened to 115.6 inches, with curb weight reduced to 3,760 pounds. It delivered an average of 26.1 miles per gallon on a straight highway run (the 120-mile trip took 17.5 liters of diesel fuel. Stop-and-go travel in the city averaged 22.7 mpg.

A wait of only 6 seconds is required for preheating the chambers on cold starts, and the engine is quiet; only on starting and occasional idle is the popping of the diesel noticeable. Out on the highway, when the Garret turbocharger boost kicks in, it sounds as though the car would climb straight up a wall.

There is no question but what the ride is as good as ever in the Mercedes, and its handling might be the best of any full-sized sedan.

Mercedes is a strong seller in Colorado. A number of auto mechanics from Germany have relocated to Denver and the nearby mountains, selecting a setting not unlike their home country.

High value retention makes Mercedes a sound investment. A 240D model purchased new in 1977 for $13,500 was still worth about 90 percent of that three years later.

1981 Honda Civic weighed only 1,800 pounds. (Bud Wells/1981)


Honda’s Civic 1500 DX hatchback is quick and economical and has good traction in the snow with front-wheel drive. With wheelbase of only 88.6 inches and 13-inch wheels, its turning circle is a narrow 31.5 feet.

The 5-speed manual transmission is shifted easily, with no push or pull or slap required to get it into reverse. Driving the Civic in Denver resulted in fuel mileage of 34.8 miles per gallon. The 1,800-pounder will do better than 40 out on the highway.

Controls are well-placed except those for the rear wiper and defogger, which are around to the side of the main instrument panel.

Base price of the Civic 1500 DX is $5,099, with 1,488cc, 4-cylinder engine, steel-belted radial tires, remote hatch release, intermittent windshield wipers and rear-window wiper, washer and defroster. High-altitude emission control equipment added $30 to the price, undercoating was $47 and freight of $172 brought the sticker to $5,348.

Back then. . . . .1980 Chevrolet C10 pickup

Most pickups in 1980 were V-8-powered, this Chevrolet C10 was with 6-cylinder. (Bud Wells/1980)

(More than 40 years ago, on April 19, 1980, I reviewed in The Denver Post a Chevrolet C10 6-cylinder pickup. Following are excerpts:)

A piano-hauling trip to Fort Worth, Texas, provided a test for a half-ton Chevrolet with a 250-cubic-inch inline-6-cylinder engine and 3-speed automatic transmission.

With the load in the back, the wide-seated C10 rode good through the wind of New Mexico and Texas. Power steering added surprising nimbleness in city traffic. Destination was Fort Worth, where daughter Kim was employed.

The quiet-running “6” climbed windy Raton Pass easily enough, with an occasional drop into 2nd gear. Gas checks from Denver to Fort Worth with the load aboard were 15.8, 15.5, 15.6 and 17.2. Unleaded-fuel prices ranged from $1.13.9 at Wichita Falls to $1.21.8 at Amarillo.

Fury in the form of a Texas-sized windstorm bucked the pickup on the return from Fort Worth to Amarillo. Heading into the gale-like force, the vehicle seemed to hang on the hills, and its mileage checks were trimmed to 12.8 and 11.2.

Without the winds and without the load, the Chevy finally got a chance to show what it could do through the cactus and dryland north of Amarillo. Two fuel stops between there and Denver resulted in identical17.5-miles-per-gallon readings.

The cab is roomy enough to seat three adults comfortably over a long ride. It didn’t shut out the wind noise.

Compression ratio on the 250-cid engine is 8.3 to 1. Other engines available on the half-ton pickup are V-8s of 305 and 350 displacement.

Payload of the C10 on a 131.5-inch wheelbase is 2,100 pounds. Suspension includes coil springs in front and leaf springs in the rear, with 15-inch wheels. The “6” is designed to handle trailers of up to 2,000 pounds.

Base price of the C10 Fleetside, provided on a complimentary basis by Stevinson Chevrolet, is $5,194. With the automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and other options, the test model’s price was $6,965.

VW Atlas stirs memories of Paul Gebhardt

The 2021 VW Atlas is a three-row, midsize crossover. (Bud Wells photos)

I was driving a 2021 Volkswagen Atlas in mid-August when I heard of the death of Paul Gebhardt, 89, longtime Boulder automobile dealer who died Aug. 7.

The Atlas, noted for its passenger/cargo roominess, has undergone exterior styling refreshment for ’21, which will be its fourth year of sales. It was introduced in the summer of 2017 as an ’18 model. The Atlas competes with the Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and other three-row SUVs.

Paul Gebhardt.

Paul Gebhardt many years ago as a Chevrolet dealer in a small town in Iowa advertised for sale an older, well-worn Volkswagen Beetle in the Friday evening newspaper. Saturday morning, when he arrived at the dealership, there were six people sitting there waiting to buy the Bug. “The amount of interest stirred by that old VW set me to thinking about imported automobiles,” said Gebhardt.

Gebhardt in 1975 moved his family to Colorado and opened Boulder European Autos. Today, known as Gebhardt Automotive, the business represents VW and BMW, though through the years has been dealer for a dozen brands.

The Lancia Beta in 1978

I remember Gebhardt’s intense enthusiasm for the Italian-built Lancia during its short sales existence in the U.S. I tested the Lancia Beta 1800 in October ’78 and recall having to drop down into 2nd gear, and even low gear a couple of times in a drive over Guanella Pass. The front-wheel-drive Lancia, a step above the smaller Fiat, was powered by a 107-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder, transverse-mounted engine. Its sticker price was $9,681.

A private family mass was held for Gebhardt.

The new VW Atlas review model was the V-6 SEL Premium trim level, powered by a 3.6-liter engine, with 8-speed automatic transmission and Tiptronic 4Motion all-wheel drive. The 276-horsepower V-6 is somewhat sluggish and ride is a bit rough during low-end acceleration demands, though at higher speeds at midrange it smooths out and cruises much better. It rides on Pirelli 255/50R20 tires. An optional engine is a 235-hp, 2-liter turbocharged 4.

Seats are comfortable and entertaining is the Fender premium sound system with subwoofer. The Atlas offers 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row of seats; fold those seats and that expands to 55.5 cubic feet.

The new Atlas carries an EPA fuel estimate of 16/22 miles per gallon. I barely got into that predicted range, with an overall average of 16.8.

A number of safety advancements and interior niceties pushed the Atlas’ sticker price just $15 past $50 grand; that’s the highest-priced Volkswagen I’ve reviewed since the last year of the VW Phaeton in 2006 at around $80,000.

Also available in ’21 for VW is the two-row Atlas Cross Sport on a shortened wheelbase.

Back then . . . . . 1980 Porsche 924

Photo from article on May 17, 1980

(Forty years ago last month, in May 1980, I drove for a week a new ’80 Porsche 924 including an afternoon to Pueblo Motorsports Park where I joined the late, famed Porsche race driver Bob Hagestad, who also owned and operated Bob Hagestad Porsche Audi dealership on West Colfax Avenue in Denver. Following are excerpts from my column which appeared in The Denver Post.)

Riding into a sharp curve at 100 miles per hour with Bob Hagestad gives a hint of his race-driving mastery. The convincing moments are in completing the curve in a lower gear with RPMs approaching 6,500.

Hagestad’s race Porsche, with which he hopes to earn a national championship this year, is one of the few sports cars that will outsprint, out-handle and brake better than the standard 1980 Porsche 924.

The 2.2-mile Pueblo Motorsports Track southwest of Pueblo is marked by 10 curves, four of them sharply defined, and lots of hills. “Brake, shift and hit your point on the curve,” Hagestad said. “It’s a matter or concentration. A race driver works the curves over and over, race after race, year after year.”

Quality of the German-built Porsche 924 is outstanding. Doors snap shut tightly, body is quiet and solid, interior fit is perfect, braking is good and the engine is smooth and responsive. The car corners exceptionally well.

The little car weighs 2,600 pounds and sits only 50 inches high, with ground clearance of 4.9 inches. Turning circle is a narrow 30.8 feet. During a week of driving the sports car, fuel-mileage checks were 31.7 on the highway and 24.3 in town.

Horsepower rating is 115 for the 121-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder engine, which is slanted 40 degrees. The only practical purpose for the slant is for a lower hoodline. Its top speed is estimated at 120 miles per hour; a peg on the car’s speedometer stops the speed indicator at 85.

The 924 carried a base price of $15,970. Addition of two-tone red-and-white paint, removable top, air conditioning, electric outside mirrors, Grundig AM/FM cassette with equalizer, 15-inch alloy wheels and a $1,960 sports group boosted the window sticker price slightly above $20,000.

Because of less body movement from the stiff suspension, Hagestad’s racing version felt much safer at high speeds on the race track than did the stock 924 I was driving.

Back then . . . . . ‘80 Ford LTD wagon

Ford’s first station wagon was a wood-bodied model in 1929. (Ford)

(Forty years ago, in the spring of 1980, a regular weekly automotive column of mine featuring the large Ford LTD station wagon appeared in The Denver Post. The wagon was provided for testing by Goodro Ford, 2121 S. Colorado Blvd. Excerpts follow:)

Wide seating area and large cargo compartment are impressive in the ’80 Ford LTD station wagon, which is 215 inches long, 79 inches wide and weighs 3,900 pounds. (The rear overhang was unsightly.) The big unit contains 89 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats down, and opening the tailgate allows room for 4-by-8 sheets of paneling or plywood. The six-passenger vehicle can be made into one for eight with the addition of optional dual-facing rear seats.

The 1980 Ford LTD wagon was almost 18 feet in overall length. (Bud Wells photo/1980)

The test model, equipped with a 351-cubic-inch V-8 engine and speed control, was suited for highway travel. Highway mileage averaged 18.4. Standard engine in the wagon is a 302-cubic-inch V-8. Road noise is present, though it has been reduced in recent years.

The bigger engine, automatic transmission, power disc brakes, power steering, speed control, tilt wheel and several other items raised the wagon’s price from a base of $6,148 to $8,982.

Ford’s first station wagon, a Model A, rolled off the assembly line in January 1929.Very square corners marked the lines; natural hard maple and birch paneling were used for the body, and the roof  was supported by hard maple and  covered with a heavy blacktop material. Nearly 5,000 Model A wagons were built and sold at a price of $650.

Roll-up front-door windows appeared for the first time in 1935, and in 1938 canvas curtains were replaced by sliding glass panels.

Other manufacturers began to build wagons in the ‘30s; they were noisy and rough-riding. Ford led sales of wagons in the ‘30s, though they were minimal in comparison to the four-door sedans and two-door coupes.

The wagon really began to catch on as a family vehicle after World War II. Ford introduced the Ranch Wagon – the first two-door all-metal station wagon – in 1952.

Why the name station wagon? The vehicle got its name from the task for which it was designed – transporting passengers and baggage to and from railroad stations.

Back then . . . . . ’78 Jeep Wagoneer

The Wagoneer had many luxury features. (Bud Wells photo)

(This review of the 1978 Jeep Wagoneer Limited by Bud Wells was featured in The Denver Post of Saturday, Sept. 9, 1978.)

Running out of gas within two blocks of where I picked up a big four-wheel-drive unit aroused my skepticism, especially after I also discovered the vehicle was locked in a low-range gear setting.

But a service station attendant helped me push the 5,000-pounder to a pump, and the push of a lever beneath the seat at 5 miles per hour returned it to normal driving range.

Thorough driving tests over the next several days convinced me that the 1978 Jeep Wagoneer Limited is one of America’s better-built vehicles.

Its four-wheel drive handled the Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park with no unusual effort.

A big 401-cubic-inch engine performed well and ran cool on the hot days of August. Gasoline mileage checks were 10.5 for mostly town driving and 11.2 and 11.3 for highway trips. The 11-plus averages aren’t bad for a four-wheeler.

With a luxurious interior and smooth ride, the multipurpose Wagoneer is as suitable for a station wagon-style family outing as it is for mountain climbing.

The fully equipped test model, provided by George Dupont of the American Motors Corp. Denver zone office, carried a window sticker price of $11,771. The 401engine with four-barrel carburetor for $225 headed the optional items list.

Among standard items were leather bucket seats, air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power window in tailgate, cruise control with a resume-speed feature, AM/FM/CB stereo radio and woodgrain exterior.

The ride on the 108-inch wheelbase was impressive in spite of the heavy-duty suspension package which included leaf springs in both front and rear. Front-window wings added air comfort.

Back then . . . . . ’99 Mazda Miata

The 1999 10th Anniversary Mazda Miata. (Mazda)

(Excerpts from a review of the 10th Anniversary Mazda Miata, April 17, 1999, by Bud Wells)

The Palace Arms’ rack of lamb was luscious and a dozen fellow automotive writers lent conviviality to the evening. The highlight for me, though, was driving away from the Brown Palace Hotel in the 10th Anniversary Edition Mazda Miata.

Mazda executives Jay Amestoy, Shari Gold and Brian Betz came to town, set up shop at the Brown and discussed the Miata and plans for rebuilding Mazda’s presence on the U.S. automotive scene.

The little Miata is outstanding in blue – sapphire blue exterior, blue suede center inserts on the two seats and even a blue convertible top and tonneau cover, the first time a production Miata has had anything other than a black or tan top.

Just as noticeable, once in the driver’s seat, is a 6-speed manual transmission; standard Miatas are 5-speeds.

Of course, there’s more shifting now. I upshifted and downshifted 95 times in the 8 miles from the Brown to my home. That’s okay, for the short stick is one of very short throws. It is so quick and convenient in its shifts that a driver tends to frequently rest his right hand on the leather-covered shift knob, awaiting the next move.

In downshifting from 6th gear, however, you must quickly feel the way to 5th, for the return spring is strong enough that it will occasionally pull the shifter toward center and put it into 3rd gear instead of 5th.

Pricing for the special Miata begins at $26,875, with 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine of 140 horsepower. Prices for standard Miatas begin at just over $20,000.

The 10th anniversary auto is powered by Mazda’s 1.8-liter, DOHC 4-cylinder engine, which develops 140 horsepower. It’s a high-revving 4-cylinder, even in 6th gear at 60 miles per hour the engine turns 3000 rpm. I averaged 25.6 miles per gallon in 60 percent city driving.

The rear-wheel-drive Miata with four-wheel double-wishbone independent suspension, is an agile handler. Its turning circle is barely over 30 feet.